Seniors: Educate Yourself for Healthcare Management

Jun 20th, 2010 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Lifestyle, Health & Fitness

Alzheimer’s disease never gets too far from center stage in our culture.  The morning news and evening papers always carry an article or two about this disease that robs the elderly of their minds, and eventually their lives.  A recent article details the experience of aging parents, one who had Alzheimer’s and the other who was the caregiver. 

Katy Butler, a writer in Mill Valley, California, wrote the article published in the New York Times on June 20, 2010, about her parents.  Entitled What Broke My Father’s Heart, this poignant story describes the anguish she, her parents and her brothers endured through her father’s dementia, pacemaker installation and subsequent unnecessary emotional trauma.  The pacemaker wrecked the family’s life.  The tale calls to task the medical community, medical equipment corporations, and insurance companies who pay for medical equipment that is sold to elderly patients, many times without consideration for the unique life of the patient.

SCJ editors read the story, with interesting responses.  One editor reminded the others she had just been through the experience of helping her elderly father tell his cardiologist they would not be returning to him for any more medical care for her father; her father is very clear that he is ready to die.  As the physician attempted to talk them out of the decision, she firmly reminded him the patient (her father) was the one making the decision, and he had no choice but to accept it.

Another editor said this article highlighted the reason she is personally opposed to health care reform: it provides an avenue for all kind of medically questionable practices and procedures that just ups the cost of care.  She believes reform is too costly and is opposed to it on that basis.  She recognizes the greed of insurance and medical services industries is at play; she believes everyone in the country should have access to affordable health care; she just does not believe healthcare reform is the way to get there. 

But there is another issue here that, perhaps, may be the central one: In the face of the greed of the insurance and medical services industries, and because healthcare reform now means most citizens will have access to affordable health care, is it not time for senior citizens across the country to educate ourselves and take charge of our medical care, using physicians and nurses and nutritionists and medications and laboratory work and radiology testing as WE determine we want and need them?  

There is sometimes a delicate balance between following advice from medical personnel and following our own intuition about what we need to do to maintain good health and treat dis-ease.  Butler points out in her article that, had her father and mother made a different decision when his pacemaker was implanted, the outcome would have been significantly different.  The pacemaker wrecked their lives, and her story is a lesson for all of us.  If we leave control over healthcare decisions in the hands of the medical profession/industry, those decisions will benefit them first, and the patient second. Greed will prevail.

The difference for many of us now is that we have access to information—via the Internet—that provides information and education about every disease known to humankind.  Do we have all the information a physician has?  No.  Do our physicians have all the information available about treating every disease?  No.  The playing field is leveling out, and we senior patients have more control than ever before in history.

We can educate ourselves.  We can search for information, consult a variety of experts in addition to those in the medical profession, and we can decide which avenues we will take in treating healthcare issues we face.  We do not have to leave those decisions in anyone else’s hands.  Educating ourselves just may be the answer.



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